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Surviving Your First Professional Recording Studio Session: 7 Tricks

Surviving Your First Professional Recording Studio Session: 7 Tricks

If you have dreams of becoming the next million-dollar voice – but have not had a single experience recording before – your first session in a clinical, professional recording studio, might be slightly nerve-wrecking or overwhelming – if you have no idea what to expect.

And many engineers or producers, in their down-to-business nature, won’t always take the time to put you at ease.

So here are some pointers which can help you make it a much more pleasant, even enjoyable and rewarding experience:

1. Go for a pre-recording brief or studio tour

Nothing puts you quite as at ease, as familiarizing yourself with the alien environment of dials, knobs, lights and microphones BEFORE you step into the booth and deliver your talent.

When you make a booking, try to do so in person, at the studio, on a day or time it is not busy – and ask if you could just quickly see, and acquaint yourself with the surroundings – before you make payment.

This way – it will not be so alien on the day you arrive for your booking.

2. Ask for a pre-recording sound-check if possible

If time allows, and the studio is courteous enough – ASK if you may quickly hear what it would be like in front of the microphone – with the headphones on. Be upfront about it – and explain that it helps you calm your nerves, to do a better recording on the day.

Here’s a BIG secret:

Most engineers and producers are AS UNCOMFORTABLE dealing with your nerves, as YOU are – so if you explain that a sound check before the time, will help you better deal with this, MOST of them would be willing to comply, for the sake of a smooth recording on the day, and be happy to let you do this in advance.

3. Ask what is expected of you

Different engineers and producers might have slightly different styles and ways of working, with different setups.

Ask what is expected of you, for them to have the best material to work with. Ask for the do’s and don’ts.

Having a clear idea of what is expected of you, will go a long way towards making you comfortable and more confident when delivering your performance.

4. Know your lyrics and song by heart

Don’t wait until the day before to learn your lyrics. Make sure you are so practised, that it’s almost second nature and you can do the performance without even thinking, or blinking.

Most studios allow for you to pin-up the lyrics within reading distance behind the microphone – just so you have it there to steady your nerves, but don’t rely on this.

Ask whether this is the case, before you enter the studio for your session, so you are fully prepared. Bring a printed copy of the lyrics with you – if that is the case.

Get some decent sleep the night before – take a sleeping tablet if you have to.

Make sure you arrive 5-10 minutes before the time to re-acquaint yourself with the environment, but not so early that you interrupt another session – as you’ll just be forced to sit outside waiting – which does not help for nerves.

Avoid sugar and sweets at least one day before – and if you’re prone to a scratchy throat, dairy as well just to be safe.

Make sure your voice is warmed up, by doing the proper vocal exercises, especially if your booking is in the morning – try not to book too early.

5. Don’t be afraid to communicate

When stepping inside the booth and putting the headphones on, remember that in most cases, the engineer or producer hears a different version of your performance, on a different set of speakers.

They don’t necessarily hear things the way you do, and until you don’t TELL them – they won’t.

Don’t be afraid to ASK them to adjust levels for you on your voice or the music, until you are comfortable – even if it is required multiple times. You are a paying client, and you need to HEAR what you are doing, allowing your best performance.

NOT DOING SO, is like ordering a coffee, and being too afraid to ask the waitress for sugar or milk.

Different vocalists have different preferences – and if you don’t speak up, the engineer or producer will most likely just assume that everything is fine.

6. Relax: Don’t apologise, or be melodramatic

It is almost guaranteed, that in your first recording – you’ll make many mistakes, be overwhelmed, second-guessing yourself. Even the most famous recording stars, had a first time.

Instead of frantically apologising or making a scene, ask for guidance and feedback instead.

Most engineers and producers have done this hundreds of times before. Taking the attention of yourself, by asking for guidance, gives you time to listen and compose yourself, for the next attempt. BREATHE.

Stick to the business – if you make a mistake, an engineer or producer’s natural first response, will be to stop immediately, cue the recording again at a drop-in point, and look over to see if you’re ready to try again. This is part of their job, and to them it is second nature. You don’t need to be embarrassed or over react.

In some instances, they’ll ask out of courtesy – even though it might seem totally aloof and mechanical, whether everything is all-right and you can hear yourself properly.

DON’T take this personally. All they’re checking is that you have proper feedback levels and are comfortable – often a common problem if a vocalist makes a mistake.

As soon as you make an error – LET IT GO.

Accept that this is a natural part of recording sometimes- the more hours you get to spend behind the microphone, the better you’ll get. DON’T beat yourself up about it – it wastes time, spoils the mood and momentum, and just gets you in a worse and worse state for the next take.

Just pretend it never happened, compose yourself, and move on to the new take immediately, without remorse or apology.

7. Power of State: Imagining your best performance

One trick that often helps, is to get your mind and body in a simulated state, which empowers you (neurologically) to deliver your best on queue.

Close your eyes for a moment behind the microphone, and pick a specific moment in your memory where you achieved success in singing. It might be a contest you won, a live performance that got a standing applause, anything.

Re-live that moment fully in your mind, and then draw it into your body, using ALL your senses – what it looked like, sounded like, smelt like, FELT like – in that moment as it happened.

Now open your eyes and give your best performance ever, as if in that moment.

Additional Tip:

• If you still struggle, after you second or third recording – consider getting a specialist studio vocal coach for a few sessions, to teach you the ins and outs of making better recordings

If you apply the insights above – making recordings will become a pleasurable, easy and rewarding experience for you.

Remember, that engineers and producers also make mistakes – and they have the benefit of working behind closed doors, often without any time pressure, when editing and mixing your recordings.

So be sure to get your part right. Though it helps to be polite, don’t be apologetic about it.

Don’t wait to get it PERFECT – just get STARTED… right now.